On Sunday night, the 2014 Pro Bowl came and went. Did anyone notice? Hardly. Despite the new format, the Pro Bowl turned out to be the same uninspired, pointless game we have been subjected to each year.
The game has certainly been on the decline for years now, and the NFL decided to attempt to reignite fan interest by changing rules, adding a fantasy football-like draft and equipping players with fancy uniforms.
Well, it didn't work.
First of all, the rule changes were almost irrelevant. Kickoffs were not really missed, four two-minute warnings along with a change of possession after each quarter quickly got annoying and most casual fans probably didn't notice any changes in defensive coverages.
Next, the uniforms were just flat-out ugly. The all-white and all-grey uniforms looked completely bland. Perhaps that was the reason for Nike to coat them with the brightest neon they could possibly find. With nameplates and cleats glowing the way they were, it was almost impossible to get through the game without adjusting the TV's brightness.
Finally, the draft format. This was not a good idea whatsoever. During the game, we witnessed players from the same teams hitting each other—because they had to—in a glorified exhibition game. From Derrick Johnson's head-first collision with Jamaal Charles to T.J. Ward completely upending Josh Gordon, it could have ended tragically.
So, the new changes were unsuccessful. Why was that? Was it simply because the new rules were bad? Well, that could be part of it.
However, to put things simply, there is no fixing the Pro Bowl no matter what changes are made.
This is because the NFL cannot put a viable product on the field. Most of these players are too concerned about their own well-being and lack of a worthwhile paycheck to deliver any kind of a worthy performance in the modern Pro Bowl.
With $53,000 to the winners and $26,000 to the losers, the dollar figure is too small to warrant potentially ruining their chances for a new multi-million-dollar contract the following year.
Because of this, players don't take chances and fans don't get a very awe-inspiring game.
On the offensive side of the ball, we saw offensive tackles who didn't think it was very important to hold blocks. Their substandard play resulted in nine quarterback sacks.
Sloppy route running—which included some jogging—from wide receivers didn't help either. There was a total of six interceptions thrown over the course of the game. In fact, there were eight total turnovers.
Usually, those type of statistics would be worthy of praise for the defenders. This game wasn't the usual shootout that we have been accustomed to. However, the dismal performances of many offensive players overshadowed any effort that few defensive players actually put into the game.
That's just the way the Pro Bowl has been in recent years.
Back during earlier Pro Bowls, the money that players collected actually meant something to them and their families. They depended on that bonus to help sustain their way of living through the year. The same just cannot be said these days with player contracts and endorsements being worth millions of dollars.
So, does that mean the NFL should pay players more for the event? Absolutely not. The money is just one of the many troubling aspects of the Pro Bowl.
This year brings with it a new factor—allegiance.
Now that there is a draft for the Pro Bowl instead of the traditional AFC-versus-NFC format, players are forced to take the field to represent Team Sanders or Team Rice. What's there to get excited about and play for?
It's the same way for fans with this format. Are you a Kansas City Chiefs fan? If so, which team did you support? After all, Chiefs were split between both teams and even contacted each other several times during the game.
At least with the old format, a fan could easily pick a side. That's why we all watch football anyway—because we want someone in particular to win. This year made it very difficult to do that.
Now, we have a game that is sloppily played, tough to watch, and it's even harder to pick a team to root for. So, what should be done? Get rid of the game altogether?
The NFL has been saying for some time now that it would do away with the Pro Bowl if it did not see any improvement in the pace and tenacity of the game. Well, we didn't really see any change this year, and the game can be expected to maintain this flat line for the foreseeable future.
Doing away with the game may be the best-case scenario. However, the league should not do away with an event called the Pro Bowl. After all, players look forward to the opportunity to be inducted into the realm of the elite—not to mention that many get nice bonuses for being there.
Instead, the NFL could easily go back to its old ways with a week of skills challenges for these players.
Competing in quarterback gauntlets, 40-yard dashes, bench presses, kicking competitions and skill-position drills—among many other events—may be the best way to go here. An NFL-style Olympics, if you will.
Fans still get to see their favorite players compete—in fact it would be a much more personal and interactive experience. Players will be able to gain their inductions into the Pro Bowl but won't have to worry about unnecessary contact. The NFL will still get ratings.
It sounds like a winning combination across the board.
But who knows? After the way the Pro Bowl looked this year, anything could happen. One thing is for certain: If the event stays the way it is now, it will not last much longer at all.
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